The Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in a 64-32 vote Thursday morning. An amendment by Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) that would have so broadened religious exemptions under the law as to make it sort of pointless failed, 43-55.
While current federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin, it doesn't stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This bill would prohibit employers with 15 or more workers from making hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation decisions for their employees because of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. It includes exemptions for religious institutions and the military.
The bill was one of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's most cherished goals. When he was dying, he passed the mantle on to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asking him to lead on the issue, which Merkley has done superbly as lead sponsor of this bill.
"When Sen. Kennedy asked me to undertake this, my response to his team was, I'll only do so if it's fully inclusive," said Merkley, adding, "It was really a huge surprise to me that his team asked me to undertake leadership on this." [...]House Speaker John Boehner doesn't agree with Sen. Merkley, and the majority of the Senate, that discrimination is simply wrong. He refuses to allow the House to join the Senate in making history. He says that this equal rights bill is "frivolous." Boehner, as usual, is on the wrong side of history on this one.
"I had led this battle in Oregon successfully and had been deeply committed to it," he said. "I feel that such discrimination is wrong and our vision of equality in the Constitution, our vision of the pursuit of happiness in the Constitution and kind of a fundamental sense of fair play—all of those things mean that it is just wrong for people not to have a fair shake at getting or retaining a job."